JM: Can nature help you invent something new? Well, that was one of the questions in last year’s Kids’ Science Challenge, and the answer is definitely yes. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
OD: My idea was to use a big version of maple seeds, which are helicopter seeds, to drop emergency packages from great heights.
JM: Olivia Smith Donovan is entering the 5th grade in Wilmington, Delaware, and she’s one of the winners of the Kids’ Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th-graders. Her idea, well, imagine a kind of one-man helicopter, with propeller blades that look like maple tree seeds, slowing its descent.
CV: The benefits of her design are that it would hopefully have fewer lines or ropes or any sort of cables to snare either as this device lands or as somebody tries to retrieve material from the device.
JM: Christopher Viney is an engineering professor at the University of California in Merced. He’s collaborating with Olivia to see if her idea could really work.
CV: Another great advantage is that you could hopefully deploy several of these cheaply. So, if you want to parachute in bottles of water for people who are without fresh water after an earthquake you could drop maybe thousands of these easily. So, there’s a good humanitarian, a good functional reason for this. It’s a nice simple idea.
JM: It’s an idea that has stymied even the most experienced scientists.
CV: Although people have talked for a long time about, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to understand how maple seeds work,’ in fact, very, very few people do understand how they work. So, you know, it took a kid like Olivia coming along and wanting to know reall how it works, really wanting to know there’s so much to be done there. And, you know, you need a pioneer who’s in fourth grade to come along and make suggestions like that.
JM: Did Olivia’s idea work? We’ll find out in future programs. Our new Kids’ Science Challenge launches next month. Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.